If you’re a retiree who’s thinking about traveling in the summer, either at home or abroad, and you’re hesitant, it’s no wonder: there are so many things to keep in mind.
“When you think about traveling, take stock of the risks,” says Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, a medical professor with experience in COVID-19, at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
No one wants to get sick on vacation. However, if you travel when COVID-19 variants persist for a third year, what risk are you willing to take and what precautions are recommended?
“It’s a complex calculation,” Ray says.
In general, you want to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. “For some people, traveling is an important part of life,” says Ray. “If you wait until the right time to travel, you may never do so.”
Despite the pandemic, committed travelers and even those who simply want to visit family and friends find ways to keep traveling.
Jennie, 69, and her husband, Ron, 71, wanted to see their son after 2 1/2 years. Her daughter traveled with them. He wasn’t a “happy flyer” even before the pandemic, in April, he agreed to fly anyway. “We did everything we could” to mitigate the risk, says Jennie, who preferred to use only her name. They both received a second boost, wore masks on the plane and to the airport, ate as much outdoors as possible, and reserved first-class seats with their reward points to increase social distancing. “At some point you say, ‘Let’s go now,'” she says. It was worth it for me to just wrap my arms around him again, “he says.
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The federal mandate for masks to wear masks on airplanes and public transportation expired on May 3rd. Now, masks are recommended but not required. Many perceive it as not wearing a mask, but it is “more nuanced than that,” says Ray. “Unfortunately, we have not standardized the use of masks.”
The reality is that COVID-19 is on the rise here in the U.S. “There’s a lot of transmission here in the U.S.,” says Ray. “We are all facing these risk gradations. There is an increase, but not as bad as other increases have been,” he says. With vaccines and reinforcements, “we have a lot of immunity to serious diseases.”
A second boost means an extra boost after someone has had Moderna’s first two MRNAs,
or Pfizer PFE,
features (or a Johnson & Johnson JNJ,
shooting), and an initial reinforcement.
“Get the shots you need to make. If you’re 50 or older, you’re eligible for a second booster,” says critical care lung doctor Joseph Khabbaza, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. “When the cases start to increase a bit, go for a second booster.”
Unless you are immunocompromised because you are taking particular medications such as rituximab, for example, to treat cancer, or if you have an immunodeficiency disease, “you are supposed to have normal immunity,” says Khabbaza. The combination of vaccines, reinforcements and the use of a properly fitted mask gives you a fair degree of protection.
However, if a loved one is immunocompromised, there are more things to think about when traveling during COVID-19. “It’s not just about you,” says Ray de Hopkins. “These are the people you love and care about. You don’t want to expose them.” If your home includes someone who is immunocompromised, “your precaution may need to be higher.”
Please note these points:
It’s not where you travel, but how you protect yourself when you’re there. Instead of focusing on the county-by-county ranking, “take care of yourself,” Ray says. For example, if you’re traveling to New York City, “wear a high-quality mask while you’re at it.” More broadly, “local risk becomes less important if you manage your own risk by using a mask carefully, not a fabric mask,” he says.
Khabbaza says, “If there is a barrier covering your nose and mouth, you are less likely to become infected. Masks are known to be more valuable when the cases are high.” You want to avoid contact with “particles and drops,” he says. If you are thinking of traveling internationally, check out the US State Department website. For information on overseas medical care, visit the State Department’s Overseas Travel website or the CDC’s International Travel website. For information on cruise travel, the CDC has tips here.
Make sure the mask fits properly. “The blues are pretty good,” Ray says. “If they’re pulling the strings, they’re not that good.” Your mask should be flat against your face to allow you to breathe “through the mask, not around it,” he says. “It’s important that they are comfortable everywhere. Change the mask every day,” he says. Ray recommends a KF94 mask or a KN95 mask, as long as it is not a fake mask.
Discard your mask periodically. “Change your mask regularly so that they saturate, “says Ray.” You can dry them in a paper bag. If a mask is wet, discard it.
Air filters vary in different types of transport. Aircraft are usually equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that remove most particles, including viruses and bacteria, from the air before it is recirculated to the cockpit. Amtrak has improved its security protocols during the pandemic and is equipped with on-board filtration systems with a change of fresh air every 4-5 minutes, according to Amtrak. “You can do your own filtering,” Ray says. “Wear a mask”.
Staying in a hotel is relatively safe. “In a hotel, it’s really not a big deal if you wear a mask, except (when) in your room,” Ray says. Put on a mask while going to the elevator.
A second boost can make all the difference. “It seems prudent,” Ray says. “Be a little safer. It seems to reduce the risk of infection and serious illness.”